by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Part XVI

When the Buddha does all, and you follow this doing effortlessly and without worrying about it, you gain freedom from suffering and become, yourself, Buddha.

Great Master Dogen
Shoji ("Life and Death")

Stepping into the Unknown

Genuine asking is done in faith, and the process of meditative deliberation that it initiates is done in faith. This process culminates in a following that must also be done in faith. Such action is neither wilfully reckless nor wilfully cautious: it is just following in faith.

In How to Grow a Lotus Blossom Rev. Master writes, "When the Lord of the House gives you His teaching, listen attentively and respectfully, and quickly, loudly, reverently and obediently say, 'YES.'" (Page xxix; first edition, Page 176)

Note that Rev. Master does not write, ". . . listen attentively and respectfully, and make sure you get an explanation before you say, 'Yes.'"

Unknowing is not the same as ignorance and confusion. However, it may look like ignorance and confusion if we are clinging to intellectual clarity. In reality, while unknowing is obscure to the intellect, it is an environment in which our spiritual intuition is completely and contentedly at home. There is an intuitive clarity which is utter obscurity to the intellect. Rev. Master called this intuitive clarity "blood and bones certainty." It is the clarity of the "that" (that an act is good to do, or not good to do, in a particular situation) rather than the "why."

When all conditions are fully ripe, and when we are not wilfully blocking our own ability to receive the guidance of the Eternal, we are shown the step that is good to take--no more, no less. If we look down and hesitate at the critical moment for action, our hesitation can result in a proliferation of confusion and suffering. Yes, we might get it wrong if we take that step into the unknown. But we will get it wrong if we bog down in doubt and hesitation.


Following is doing that which the Eternal has shown is good to do, and doing it when it is good to do it. Following is also not doing that which is not good to do when it is not good to do it. Timing is of the utmost importance. At one moment a particular action may be good to do; in the next moment it may not be good to do.

We all experience the importance of getting the timing right every day. We may not survive if we walk across an intersection at the wrong time, or take a breath at the wrong time when swimming. We can make a true statement at the wrong time and spread confusion and grief. At another time the same statement might greatly help someone.

This "now it is good, now it is not good" requires us to train in mindfulness so that we can catch the Eternal's signals. While the process of meditative deliberation that I have described (asking, offering, waiting, listening) can be spread over an extended period of time, it is all telescoped into a moment of meditation, a moment of pure awareness. Whether a signal be a literal green or red stoplight, or a purely intuitive spiritual "green or red light," if we are not stuck in opinionation and insistence, we are capable of moving very quickly to do that which is good when it is good.

Catching the Lord

When I was young monk, Rev. Master frequently challenged her monastic disciples with the question, "Can you catch the Lord?"--I have always assumed that this was a question that she was challenged with as a young monk. I now know that it means, "Can you catch the signal from the Eternal and act upon it without doubt or hesitation?"

Some spiritual "green and red lights" are particularly strong signals. Strong signals indicate important opportunities or dangers. We ignore these signals and refuse to obey them at our peril. Here are two examples of strong signals from my own experience:

One day I was resting in my room and "heard" the words, "Put your kesa on and go to the meditation hall." There was no scheduled meditation at the time, but I put on my kesa and went. When I got there I found that one of my disciples was sitting in meditation. I sat down and meditated also. After a short while my disciple started weeping. I took him to my office where he experienced the first kensho.

Once many years ago I was transporting some items in the temple truck from Seattle to our monastery. Just before leaving, I got a clear intuitive sense that I should wait, stay the night in Seattle, and drive to the monastery the next day. I ignored this message. Within a few miles, I had an accident. No one was hurt, but the temple truck was wrecked.

The first story is an example of a strong "green light." The second story is an example of a strong "red light." In one example I did that which was good; in the other I did not. In one case I trusted; in the other I did not. In one I was willing to follow; in the other I was not. In neither case was I given an explanation of why the choice toward which the Eternal pointed me was good or not good. And in neither case did it make the slightest difference to the Eternal whether or not I chose to follow the guidance that the Eternal had provided: whether we follow or not, Infinite Love continues to love. And whether we follow or not, we get the consequences of our actions. I have found again and again that I much prefer the consequences of following the Eternal to the consequences of ignoring the Eternal.

Everything Given Up--the Important Thing Given Back

There is always a price to pay for following the Eternal. We always have to give something up in order to take that next step into the unknown. We easily forget that one day we will die and everything except the Eternal will be lost. Every act in which we follow the Eternal is a willing surrender of that which we will inevitably lose one day anyway. And in this very willingness we are left over and over again with just the Eternal--which means that we are left with Love beyond our wildest dreams.


Click here to proceed to Part XVII, "If it is Good"

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